After my felony conviction, I didn’t know if I could vote. It took me 12 years to find out.
17 million Americans have a past felony conviction and are eligible to register to vote right now. Many of them don’t know this. Until very recently, I was one of them. The absence of voting rights education for those with past convictions has been a quietly effective method of voter suppression for decades, and it’s time for that to change.
17 million citizens is equivalent of the populations of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, combined. This group must navigate their day-to-day knowing that a specter from their past will always be there in some shape or form, even after their proverbial debt to society has been paid.
Felony disenfranchisement laws vary widely by state, and the states with the most confusing laws take no proactive steps to educate the public. When Alabama changed its law last year to effectively re-enfranchise tens of thousands of voters, the secretary of state refused to spend state resources to help educate voters about changes to the law, allowing misinformation and confusion to spread about eligibility. In Arizona, my right to vote was fully restored after all obligations related to my sentence had been fulfilled. That was in 2006. After more than a decade of fruitless searching, I found the basic education I had been seeking from a Twitter post referencing voting rights restoration that led me to RestoreYourVote.org. I chose my state and answered a handful of “Yes” or “No” questions, and was told that I could indeed vote.
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